May 21 (UPI) -- Following the United States and Guatemala, Paraguay on Monday became just the third country -- and first in South America -- to open its Israeli Embassy in Jerusalem.
In a ceremony at Malha Technological Park, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Paraguay as a "true friend" of Israel and said the country's move is a "bold stance" in international affairs.
"We remember our friends. We have no better friends than you," Netanyahu said. "Thank you, Paraguay."
The decision to move the Paraguayan embassy came a week after the U.S. move, and less than two months before Mario Abdo Benitez replaces Horatio Cartes as president. Benitez said he wasn't consulted on the embassy move.
Elected in 2013, Cartes used a campaign team with Israeli advisers that included former Netanyahu bureau chief Ari Harow. Cartes in 2016 became the first Paraguayan leader to visit Israel.
U.S. President Donald Trump initiated the wave of moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem when he said in December the United States would formally recognize the holy city as the Israeli capital. He said the decision was made in the interests of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Guatemala followed by opening its embassy in Jerusalem last week. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales called it a "courageous decision."
Palestinian Liberation Organization member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi called on Paraguay to scrap plans to move its consulate, calling it a "provocative and irresponsible measure."
"Paraguay has conspired with Israel, the United States and Guatemala to entrench the military occupation and to seal the fate of occupied Jerusalem," Ashrawi said. "Paraguay should stand on the side of justice and dignity and work to promote the chances for peace and stability."
On the same day the new U.S. Embassy opened, 52 Palestinians died in protests on the Gaza-Israel border. The demonstrations coincided with the move, but were aimed at the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence.